Schools Superintendent Valerie Henning-Piedmonte announced March 18 that she will retire effective July 1, two years into a three-year contract. The school district must now hire a new superintendent for the fourth time in five years.
“Although the pandemic has been challenging, I've enjoyed my career as an educator and leader,” Henning-Piedmonte told the Enterprise in a text message on March 18. She declined to be interviewed.
In a March 18 email to the community, the seven-member Hastings Board of Education stated they will likely contract with an interim superintendent while they search for a permanent successor to Henning-Piedmonte.
On March 19, board president Lauren Berman told the Enterprise the board would put together a recruitment plan, and that she was unsure whether or not they would hire a search firm.
“Executive searches are always a challenge for public and private organizations,” school board member Jeremy Galland wrote in a March 21 email to the Enterprise. Galland is a math teacher in the Yonkers public schools.
For the Hastings community, Galland said, the search “forces us to reflect on what changes in our thinking, and evaluating of priorities, might increase the chances of retaining and attracting our next superintendent.”
“We have new school board members and experienced board members,” he continued, “but the success of our executive search will come from reaching out to those Hastings residents with especially relevant experience in education and administration.”
Galland was optimistic that the caliber of Hastings’ students and teachers would “attract strong candidates who want to lead an impressive school district.”
Henning-Piedmonte became Hastings’ superintendent in July 2019, after three years as the superintendent in Brewster. She took over from Charles Wilson, who was interim superintendent for one year in Hastings.
Wilson was preceded by Tony Sinanis, who started in July 2017 and then left in July 2018 to become an assistant superintendent in Chappaqua. Before Sinanis, Roy Montesano was superintendent for five years. He left to become the superintendent in Bronxville in July 2017.
To find Sinanis, the district paid $18,000 to a search consultant, District Wise. Due to a clause in the contract with District Wise, if either Sinanis or the district decided they had made the wrong choice, the firm would reactivate the search at no further cost to the district.
Henning-Piedmonte was key to hiring Melissa Szymanski, the principal of Concord Road School in Ardsley, to fill the new role of assistant superintendent of curriculum. She has also been involved in the district's diversity and inclusion initiatives. Most notably, she continues to lead the district during the pandemic.
Scholarly research on superintendent turnover indicates it would be difficult to determine the reasons for the recent turnover in Hastings. Too many factors might motivate a superintendent to resign.
Victoria Velasquez, who wrote about superintendent turnover in her 2017 doctoral thesis at Seton Hall University, focused on the influence of frequent superintendent turnover on the culture of a K-12 suburban school district in the northeastern U.S. She wrote, “The position of superintendent is filled with stress, mandates, political pressure, school board involvement, and public judgments.”
According to 2008 data collected by the American Association of School Administrators, the mean tenure for a superintendent is five to six years, and the annual turnover rate for superintendents is between 14 and 16 percent.
Some research puts the average longevity at less. In a 2014 study from the Brown Center on Education Policy at Brookings (the Brookings Institute think tank), the authors found that the typical superintendent had been on the job for three to four years. The authors note, “School superintendents receive a lot of credit when things go well and plenty of blame when they don't.”
The Brown Center authors also found that student achievement “does not improve with longevity of superintendent service within their districts” and that “individual superintendents who have had an exceptional impact on student achievement cannot be reliably identified” in quantitative research.
“Superintendents account for a very small fraction (0.3 percent) of student differences in achievement,” the Brown Center study determined. “This effect, while statistically significant, is orders of magnitude smaller than that associated with any other major components of the education system, including: measured and unmeasured student characteristics; teachers; schools; and districts.”